being prophetic

"Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me;
for I am meek and lowly in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls."

For some reason I thought about the prophets yesterday, maybe because the discussion group here talked about Hosea (or because we just watched Prince of Egypt, about Moses). It's very desirable to be called "prophetic" these days. This usually means that, like the prophets, this person or group courageously speaks out against an oppressor, telling them they are doing wrong and that they should repent and act justly. This image is especially popular among activist Christians. But is this all it means to be prophetic?

In modern times, at least among more mainline groups, the "prophesy" part of being prophetic is downplayed or ignored completely. It's seen as "fortune-telling." But I think there is something important in this aspect of the prophetic witness. The prophets did not simply denounce the oppressors' deeds as unfair or evil, they announced God's judgment. They proclaimed that, if the wrongdoing did not stop, calamity would fall on the oppressor from God's mighty hand, which would come to rescue his afflicted people. This is not just telling the future. This is announcing God's will, what God would do. And the difference between a false prophet and a true one was whether this announcement actually came to pass. Did the prophet speak for God or not?

My point is that the prophet was not the one who made things happen, brought about the change for the better--it was God. The prophet simply announced what God would do and God did it.

Modern day prophetic types seem to ignore this aspect. They tend to denounce injustice, then immediately set about trying to fix it themselves. They muster resources and kick off labor strikes and letter writing campaigns, try to elect their political candidate or get their bill passed. A big popular following (usually through heavy use of the media) is seen as the way to victory. They wouldn't presume to say what God is going to do, but they can predict what their strength-in-numbers might be able to accomplish. And hard work. There's always more that can be done for the cause, and the heroes are the ones who work the hardest.

But Jesus wasn't like this. He was prophetic in the fullest sense. He did denounce injustice, but he didn't attempt to fix it himself: he announced what God was doing about it and what he would do in the future. Jesus did not set about the hard work of "building the kingdom of God." He announced that the time was fulfilled, the kingdom of God had arrived for those who embraced it, and that in the future God himself would wipe away everything that was not part of his kingdom. The kingdom of God was God's perfect work, and God's gift to us.

Even in the healings that seemed to be so much of Jesus' initial work on earth, we see not Jesus' labor but God's act. The demons were not cast out by Jesus' professional counseling. The diseases were not healed through Jesus' medical expertise or the work of many hospital employees. Jesus simply spoke the word and God worked. Jesus prophetically announced what God would do for those who had faith.

This is not "hard work" as we know it (and praise it so highly). It is humble work. It is merely being God's instrument. It requires meekness and lowliness of heart, and it offers rest for our souls. Not the burdens of responsibility, the weight of "making it happen" ourselves, but the rest of knowing that this is God's work and God has the power and will to bring it to completion.

More tomorrow...